The term “out-of-the-box thinking" has probably reached a near-death condition. I haven’t heard the term in a couple of weeks, so it must be dying out. Probably not, but in some ways it would be nice if it retreated a bit – it can easily become an overused phrase and lose its inspirational characteristic. The concept of thinking beyond constraints is sound; sometimes dealing with things within the obvious limitations can bring forth a good outcome, too.
One place I would think that constraints would not be welcome, would be in architecture, graphic design, or green building techniques. While enjoying coffee with Brent Francese this week, I was surprised by a comment he made during the conversation that seemed to indicate he welcomed constraints.
Regular readers and subscribers will recognize Brent as the Lead Designer at Clean Living, a concept of creating low carbon, smart living environments. I enjoy the opportunity to talk to Brent about developments in the building and construction industry, especially surrounding so-called 'Go Green’ initiatives and products.
While watching Brent sketch some home building ideas and techniques that use lumber and materials in their dimensional state (i.e., without cutting, or low-waste practices), he referred to working within the boundaries or constraints of the site plan, materials, surrounding landscape, etc. Where I might see a limitation and the need for change, Brent would tell me how they could adapt to the situation and apply their building techniques in a creative and practical way. Said another way, he seemed to be able to see ‘inside-the-box’, yet add a completely new aspect to overcome the obstacle.
When dealing with inventions and innovative ideas, I’m asked to find ways around the barriers to market entry, regulations that may govern their adoption, or the competitive forces that will work against their ability to get traction. By looking for the constraints and limitations early on, and finding ways around them, we can save our client time and money early in the product cycle. Whereas Brent and the Clean Living team may get paid to work within the limitation, we get paid to find ways out of the constraint – a little like breaking free of the tie that binds us.
This week’s experience with Brent has left me pondering the thought of how we can welcome limitations and constraints as a good thing. Instead of putting time into out-of-the-box thinking to overcome the constraint, by welcoming its inevitable existence, we may be able to save time and effort by applying the tools at hand – think Apollo 13; use what you have available, in your current surroundings. It becomes a little like martial arts by leveraging your opponent’s weight (the constraint) to your advantage.